MUSKEGON (AP) – The high-speed Lake Express ferry is making plans for the 2012 season after a year that saw service hampered by engine problems.

The Lake Michigan ferry service between Milwaukee and Muskegon will work to improve customer service, make small changes to its schedule and overhaul its pricing and marketing before service resumes, The Muskegon Chronicle reported Tuesday.

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The ferry’s ninth season could begin April 27 and continue through Nov. 2, company President Ken Szallai said. Exact dates and schedules are still to be determined.

“We’ll be back next year,” Szallai said.

The start of the 2011 season was delayed three weeks by engine problems. Service also was suspended for a period starting after engine problems arose again in July. Repairs kept the Lake Express at its Milwaukee dock into August, during the peak summer season.

“It was a good year, but obviously we had two engine malfunctions that took us out more than 30 days,” Szallai said. “That hurts in a seasonal business. We’ve put that behind us, but we are concerned on how it discomforted our riders.”

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The Lake Express has four diesel engines, two of which were rebuilt over the last winter. The malfunctions occurred in those two engines, which have been replaced, he said. The boat carries 250 passengers and 46 vehicles, and will get normal winter maintenance.

Without the shutdowns, Lake Express was having an “improving season,” Szallai said. Financial results and passenger counts weren’t released.

Lake Express hired former Muskegon County tourism manager Jill Emery in August as Michigan manager of marketing and sales. Of the company’s 85 employees during the sailing season, 25 are in the Muskegon terminal, adjacent to the Great Lakes Marina in Muskegon.

Employee customer service training will begin with the Muskegon staff and then take place in Milwaukee, Emery said.

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